Soft Skull Press (2017)
Reviewed by Sheri Hoyte for Reader Views (1/18)
“Sin Bravely: A Memoir of Spiritual Disobedience” by Maggie Rowe is the hilarious yet heartfelt story of the author’s struggles with salvation and the fear of damnation. Her literal interpretation of the Bible sets her on a whirlwind journey full of disillusion and anxiety. By the age of 19, Rowe is convinced she will be condemned to eternal punishment in hell, and checks herself into a Christian psychiatric facility, hoping to finally find the answers she needs in order to save her soul.
The opening text produces the intensity with which Rowe struggles with her fears. While viewing a painting of Jesus she declares, “Jesus’s eyes seem kind, but I will not let myself be fooled,” (pg. 3). Going on to state that she knows Jesus could “turn” on her at any moment – it is Rowe’s inner thoughts that hold her hostage as indeed, she is her own worst demon.
Unwilling or unable to accept her soul is saved, she repeats the Sinner’s Prayer, (which guarantees salvation) over and over throughout the course of her life, almost as a kind of insurance – just in case it didn’t “take” the first few thousand times. Little lyrical moments like this take the story to a level quite above anything I have read in a long time.
The writing is absolutely brilliant, and I found myself hanging on every sentence – no, every word, eager to consume the wit and creativity that flows through Rowe seemingly effortlessly. Her ability to precisely describe her inner turmoil with the irreconcilable contradictions she obsesses over, really hits home and drives the story, and I was more than a little sad when I got to the final page.
And the characters – they are oh-my-God hysterical! Maggie’s comrades at the psych unit will leave you breathless from their side-splitting antics and somewhat disturbing personalities. A sampling of her gang includes a former biker and meth-head, a set of twins that can’t stop their obsessive sexual compulsions for their mother, and a manic depressive woman who becomes Maggie’s best friend. All of the characters are genuine and relatable, even in their quirkiest and most frightening moments. Rowe really pulls you directly inside their minds as they navigate the road of spiritual enlightenment. Bethanie, one of the therapists, is so incredulous you just want to wring her neck as she unwittingly incites total frustration and hopelessness into her patients.
“Sin Bravely: A Memoir of Spiritual Disobedience” by Maggie Rowe is an exceptional read full of wit, drama, insight and inspiration. This genuine, shining memoir will have you laughing out loud, all the while contemplating the condition of your own eternal soul, whether you believe or not. It is truly a five-star-must-read experience.